Archive for the Reviews Category

Review: Subtype Zero

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on March 30, 2020 by Magadh

Subtype Zero, Ceremonious Extinction, Seeing Red Records (2020)

When I finally tumbled on to Subtype Zero’s first release, The Astral Awakening about six months ago, I kind of felt like a chump for not having heard it sooner. I know I talk about how much harder it was to find out what was going on back in the days of tape trading and photocopied fanzines, and every time I do I kind of feel like one of those elves in a Tolkien novel banging on about how horrible (or awesome) things were 5000 years ago. But if a thrash metal record of this quality is going to be put out by a band from Cleveland I feel like it should cause my spider-sense to tingle at least a little bit.


The Astral Awakening is one of the more ripping straight thrash metal records you’re ever going to hear. If you’re like me and you keep waiting for Power Trip to drop another CD you could do a lot worse than to fill the intervening time with this. Subtype Zero pack 12 songs into 29 minutes and change, which tells you something about their approach. Their songs get to the point quickly and don’t overstay their ideas. They’ve got lots of chugging guitars and double bass thumping and the playing is pretty razor-sharp.


I feel kind of bad for these guys. They were just about to leave on tour to support their newest release, Ceremonious Extinction, when the zombie plague hit and everything to knocked into a cocked hat. Obviously, things could have been worse. The whole thing might have happened while they were on the road (or they might have caught the zombie plague themselves) but you could kind of forgive them for feeling like (what must have been) a lot of hard work was getting derailed.

 


Well, I’ve been waiting around my house for the scheduled release date of Ceremonious Extinction, which was three days ago, and I’ve now had the chance to listen to it a couple of dozen times (because what the fuck else do I have to do with my time). The four songs here absolutely shred. Three of the four are less than three minutes, while the other is four minutes and change. Once again, short and to the point is a virtue. Dripping with dark aggression, this about the best thing I’ve heard this year.


Ok, the year is only three months old, but you get my point. Subtype Zero absolutely deliver the goods. “Esoteric Illusion” absolutely fires out of the gate with some kick-ass thrash, punctuated with the obligatory whammy bar solos and pinch harmonics. There are a decent number of changes of tempo in a song that only lasts 2:18. If you guessed that the follow-up cut, “Ethereal Spirit,” started about with a head-bang-inducing double bass run, well, you’d be right.


I’m really bitter about a lot of things associated with the current situation, not the least of which being that it cost me a chance of seeing them live. So I hope all this stuff gets sorted out soon, and, yes, for the obvious humanitarian motives. But I do also need to get my mosh on, so I need these guys to be able to play in person. If you think I’m going to be headbanging to Ceremonious Extinction like some sort of nerd in front of my computer, you are 100% correct.

Review: Odious Mortem

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on February 12, 2020 by Magadh

Odious Mortem Synthesia

On Synthesia, their third record and their first for quite a long time, Odious Mortem have really cracked the fucking code. Normally my tolerance for the “technical” variant of death metal is kind of limited. All too often these bands get so wrapped up in their ability to generate riffs in odd configurations and time signatures that they end up chasing themselves up their own collective asshole. It’s a rare band where I find myself thing, “Damn, I really want to hear that song again. But on my third run through this disk, I’m still discovering it’s positives qualities, and still interested in hearing more.

Ok, there are a lot of blast beats, which is pretty much de rigeur for this type of thing, but there aren’t a lot of places where I find myself trying to tap whether they’re still in 7/8 or have moved on to 11 or some other completely random time signature. There are places where these guys sound a lot like Anata, especially in the era of the latter’s Under a Stone with No Inscription. But Anata’s problem, if you want to call it that (and many devotees of this kind of metal probably view this as a virtue) is that they were so fast and changed so often that one often felt suffocated.

There is, of course, something to be said for this. But metal thrives on a certain amount of groove and what you really want is for these bands, when they occasionally stumble onto a really dominant riff among the forest of licks that they’re firing at you, to give it to you enough time to generate some head bob.

Ok, so Odious Mortem don’t give you a huge amount of that, but they do give you enough to keep you interested. The songs are kind of short, at least by technical death metal standards, but that adds to their power. It’s easy to string together riff after riff, especially at hyper speed. It’s harder to arrange songs in a way that makes sense and seems coherent rather than just mystifying. Odious Mortem’s songs make a certain kind of sense, and that lifts their material to a whole other level of quality.

There is an interesting element of old school death metal in these cuts. Not a huge amount, but enough to frame the more technical passages in such a way as to let you comprehend their extremity. This album is distinguished by its musicality, which is just not something one finds oneself writing about technical death metal bands all that often. It’s not just that these dudes are good at their instruments. They’re good at writing songs, which is not the same thing.

Synthesia is a stone-cold slab of blistering death metal. Their playing is absolutely razor-sharp, which is, of course, the coin of the realm here. It’s not just that it’s extreme and impressive, although it is both of those things. It’s simply awesome death metal and something that should definitely be your jam.

Review: Deny

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2020 by Magadh

Deny Dystopia Flyktsoda

I’ve been meaning to get around to reviewing totally crushing recent release by the Swedish band Deny. There are so many d-beat/crust bands kicking around Sweden these days that sometimes it can be a little difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, but these guys are definitely in the former category. Dystopia is a seriously hard rocking piece of kängpunk that hits all the right marks.

Before getting into the particulars, I want to return to a point that I’ve adverted to a number of times over the years. Given the relatively small number of people in Sweden (slightly more people than in the Chicago metro area), it’s absolutely mindblowing that it has produced the volume of completely crushing fucking band (among with Deny must certainly be numbered). My friends and I back in Portland used to fantasize about going to Sweden because we assumed that there would be a crust punk band playing on every corner.

Deny hail from Mariestad in Västra Götaland, a ways away from the hotbeds of Swedish hardcore in Gothenburg, Malmö, or Stockholm. Their songs tend to be short, but have a real punch and catchiness and always leave you wanting more. This is a major virtue since one of the failings of a lot of d-beat bands is to write songs that outrun the quality of their ideas.

Deny write songs that are short and to the point. Their sound, at least in terms of song structure, is a little in the retro side. They remind me a lot more of a band like Black Uniforms than of more modern bands like Martyrdöd and Myteri, although they definitely have some melodic moments. If you really twisted my arm, I’d say they sound like the Spanish band Instinto, with somewhat shorter songs and brighter production. The singer screams with real intensity, but in a way such that you can actually understand what’s being said. There is a lot of political and social commitment here, so it’s nice to be able to hear (and understand) what they have to say about it.

As near as I can tell they aren’t down-tuned at all, and it’s really refreshing to hear a band embracing the kängpunk genre who doesn’t need to tune down to C to get their point across. Deny let their songwriting do the talking. There are little interludes here and there, some metallic, some melodic, but their theory is pretty clearly to punchy, ass-kicking tunes and let the music do the talking. After checking out their songs, I had occasion to dig the video that they did for the title track, which is awesome and seriously disturbing.

They have a number of earlier releases available on Bandcamp  and these are definitely worth checking out for people who love totally unapologetic Swedish d-beat. But Dystopia absolutely goes a step beyond their previous material. The playing is absolutely razor-sharp and the production is absolutely crystal clear. The songs range in speed from frantic (“Meatmachine”) to what you might call d-beat standard (“Market of Flesh”) to slower (“Never Again”), but they show mastery at each point. I can’t remember a record that I’ve heard lately where I dig every single cut, but this is definitely one.

Dystopia is as close as you’re going to come to a perfect punk record in this day and age. Deny have integrated a lot of different genre influences, from straight d-beat, to its more melodic variants, and even some metal overtones. The end result is a record that rocks hard and sounds all their own. This disc should be my jam for a long time to come.

Review: Adrestia

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2019 by Magadh

Adrestia, The Wrath of Euphrates (Phobia Records) 2019

I meant to review Adrestia’s supremely hard-rocking The Wrath of Euphrates months ago when it first came out. But at that point, I was absolutely up to my ears in other projects and it passed out of my sight for a time. What follows take a little while to get where it’s going. If you want the Cliff’s Notes version, this is a really shattering piece of metallic crust, that has the added benefit of having sound political consciousness and an important message. If this is enough for you, feel free to move on down the line. For the rest…

*****

I can remember a lifetime ago standing around at the Mermaid in Birmingham seeing Napalm Death for the first time. In time this would get to be kind of old hat. They opened a lot of shows in Birmingham in those days and I ended up seeing them a bunch of times in the months that I lived in the U.K. in the spring and summer of 1986, but I recall the first time clearly. I recall it because I’d seen Mick Harris, a weedy little guy (not as weedy as myself of course) with the brim of his baseball cap flipped up and Lärm scrawled across it, hanging around the bar for an hour before the show. But this thing I most remember is that they must have done 30 songs in a fifteen minute set.

If I’m remembering correctly, they were a three-piece then and their bassist was singing. Before each of the manic blasts he would bark out whatever the subject of the song was: “This one’s about…destruction of the environment!” But, for all I knew, it might have been about the scoreline of the Aston Villa versus Nottingham Forest football match. It was just completely impenetrable.

I don’t know about those guys, but I do know that a lot of the punks that I met around Notts were pretty politically engaged: going to demos, playing benefits, doing a little light hunt saboteuring here and there. This was a big change for me from the U.S. (or at least my part of it). Politics for us were a bit more abstract. I think we mostly hated Ronald Reagan, but the general run of punks in the U.S. was pretty unpolitical (and sometimes kind of right-wing). I remember one of the Notts punks saying to me, “The only band from the U.S. that I take seriously is Crucifix.”

As I got more toward adulthood (and moved to an actual city as opposed to the backwater town I grew up in), I found more punks being actively engaged, doing non-profit stuff, running Food Not Bombs, etc. But toward the end of the 1980s I felt like that fell off a bit. Punk in the U.S. always had a pretty strong element of personal rather than political focus, and the rise to prominence of the East Bay pop punk bands kind of validated this. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but only a bit. There were always overtly political bands (especially in Portland where the crust thing was almost cult-like), but as I got older a really began to miss the more political end of things.

The upshot of all of this is that nowadays I have an especially soft spot my heart for bands with serious political commitment. Having followed developments in Rojava for a few years, I was really gratified when Martyrdöd (which reads of this blog will who I have a real thing for) put out a release in support of the cause there.

The struggle of the Kurds for an autonomous homeland perhaps did not receive the support from the community of the left that it might because the fight against groups like ISIL attracts so many from the nutball right. People are justifiably hesitant to take positions that might line them up alongside a bunch of neofascists, and the opposition to ISIL from that end of the spectrum is, more often than not, freighted with a lot of racist and cultural chauvinist baggage.

As Mr. Trump’s recent dealings with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demonstrate, the right has a hard time not simply categorizing non-whites as terrorists to one degree or another (thus Mr. Trump and his supporters were pretty much ok with Erdoğan’s project of ethnically cleansing northern Syria). Support for Rojava, and the YPJ and YPG units fighting to defend their autonomous zone and to root ISIL out of the region, is something decent people can unreservedly get behind.

Martyrdöd took an important step along this path with their video for “Harmageddon” in 2016. The use of actual footage of YPJ fighters in battle was intense and compelling. They then reprised this cut on the In Solidarity with Rojava split EP with Adrestia that came out the following year.

Adrestia’s previous full length, The Art of Modern Warfare (2017) also had Rojava as an important theme. I remember listening to it at the time, but never really connecting to it, although it holds up well now in retrospect. It’s got the kind of crusty aggression that you’d expect, plus the cover has actual colors other than black and white, which is a refreshing change.

The Wrath of Euphrates is a real step forward. This gets my vote for the best record to come out in 2019, and I really don’t think there’s been anything else even close (ok maybe Hellknife, Dusk of Doom which coincidentally is also out on Phobia Records). The Wrath of Euphrates comprises thirteen cuts of hyperaggressive d-beat crust. There is a very significant metal dimension to this disc, with a lot of single-string techniques, overlying melodies that would not have been out of place on an early Dimmu Borgir record. There are also more straight-ahead metal touches (a fair amount of heel damping, pick harmonics, and solos more complicated than the standard d-beat fare). But it all works together.

Their sound bounces around between early Wolfpack and a more Skit System-esque direction. Like a lot of crust bands, they tend to play a lot of melodies over underlying d-beat progressions. But unlike bands like Martyrdöd or Burning Bright, Adrestia’s melodies are more depressing and uglier.

The result is a disc that absolutely blazes with anger and aggression. It’s hard to single out particular cuts as excellent, but if you twist my arm I’d say my favorites are “See You in Hell” and “Afrin.” The former fields a pretty complex lick that then resolves into a skull-crushing d-beat pounder. This one had me headbanging to the point that I nearly wrecked my (thanks guys). “Afrin” features an opening in a sort of eastern sounding progression that is very much outside the norm for this style of music and which helps it develop real atmosphere.

For added awesome, check out the video they did for “The Message” with vocals by former Anti-Cimex singer Tomas Jonsson. I will just sya that I had very good reason to believe that nothing like this would ever happen, so it was nice to hear Jonsson’s voice gracing another record.

The Wrath of Euphrates is about as perfect of a synthesis of metal chops and hardcore aggro that you’re ever going to find. They play their music like the world was coming down around their ears and they’d been invited to play the afterparty with Motörhead. I really can’t imagine what they could do to top this, but I am eager to hear them try.

Review: For I Am

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2019 by Magadh

For I Am Late Bloomers (Bearded Punk Records)

[I dedicate the following lines to the two Belgian punk rocker guys who I met at a Christmas party in Berlin a few years ago. They must have been the only people there who didn’t speak German and, sort of in payment for chatting to them in English but also out of punk rock solidarity, they kept passing me bottles of Duvel until I was absolutely rat-arsed. I hope you lads are well…]

Punk rock, the internet, and a proctologist’s surgery all have one thing in common: one tends to find an above-average proportion of really unpleasant assholes there. Having spent a lot of time around the first two at least, I have (as one must) learned to ignore most of it. But there are moments, often in the late and solitary watches of the night, when the capacity of both the internet and the underground scene to distill the most repugnant qualities of human beings can bring one to an attitude of real loathing.

So it was the other night when, noodling around on Youtube, I found this:

I was pretty deep in my cups at that point, and I honestly can’t remember now why I decided to watch it. Taylor Swift is not really my thing and, as far as pop punk bands go the market is so saturated that it’s rare that one that catches my attention. But, lo, I was really pleasantly surprised. All too often, cover songs tend to be a kind of slavish homage, a lesser version of some greater original. More rarely, a band will take a cut from some other genre and, by translating it into their own, show the original in a new and different light. Leatherface were masters at this, for instance when they covered Abba’s “Eagle” or Elton John’s classic “Candle in the Wind.” But such brilliancies are few and far between, and altogether too rare.

For I Am’s driving cover of “Blank Space” is very much of the latter kind. While the original is very much in the mold of Taylor Swift’s (not unpleasant) more recent bouncy pop material, For I Am kicks out the jams, rendering it in aggressive, guitar-heavy double four time. Vocalist Hanne Terweduwe absolutely makes the whole production, both with her powerful singing chops and the sort of goofball demeanor that she effects. Swift’s original was an expression of her frustration at being painted in the (grossly sexist) press as some kind of man-eater. For that reason, it is important that is a woman delivering the lyrics.

Some gender-specific songs can have their valence reversed to useful effect (for instance Joan Jett’s cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”). By contrast, “Blank Space” is an attempt to highlight a kind of treatment specifically meted out to women. While there are (I have since discovered) quite a number of covers of this song floating around the net, the ones with dudes singing miss something important.

Anyway, my interest piqued, I headed over to Bandcamp for a little deeper dive. For I Am are from Antwerp. I must admit to my own embarrassment that I’ve probably only ever heard three or four Belgian punk bands. The only one that I can readily remember is Zyklome A, whose Made in Belgium was a classic of 1980s hardcore.

For I Am play pretty straightforward pop punk and just released their third offering, Late Bloomers. There is a refreshing self-awareness about this band. Their profile on Discogs.com features the line, “Does the world really need another pop-punk band? Probably not, but we started one anyway.” That’s fine. Rock the way you want to rock and if the field of pop punk bands is a bit crowded, quality tends to show through.

For I Am’s two prior releases are a 7 song EP from 2014 (15 Minutes Late) and a full CD from 2016 (All About Perspectives). The former was subsequently re-released with three added cuts under the title 15 Minutes Late (Again). These first two offerings have a lot going for them: catchy melodies, efficient arrangements, heavy guitars, a drummer who really knows what he’s doing, and Terweduwe who belts out the vocals with joy and conviction. Their songs cover both personal and political topics, the lyrics smooth and well-composed, especially for people working in their second language (if not their third).

It is one of the great failings of bands generally, and pop punk bands in particular, to find a formula and stick with it. One thinks here, for instance, of No Use For A Name, who settle on a workable approach with ¡Leche Con Carne! and then rerecorded it five more times. Say what you want about Bad Religion, the records that they released after No Control at least responded to the criticism that that record sounded almost exactly like its predecessor.

For those wondering what a new record from For I Am might comprise, I will say that they have resisted the temptation to rest on their laurels. They’ve retained the things that were appealing about their earlier releases while adding some nice touches and different textures. For I Am features a dual guitar attack and interplay is actually pretty subtle. The guitar sound is thick with overdrive. Late Bloomers features some more metallic-sounding techniques than and their prior discs. The songs tend to hit some pretty frenetic speeds, but the melodies are there still present and correct. Their bass player is surpassingly good, playing lots of chordal stuff that sounds at points like the guy from Face to Face (and I think that was about the best thing about that particular band).

Over it all, Hanne Terweduwe’s vocals are a powerful presence. At a couple of points in their web presence, they make the point that there aren’t that many female-fronted bands in Belgium. Probably true, because it’s true for punk rock in general. It’s always been kind of a sausage party, so it’s always nice to find women using the punk scene to amplify their power. The lyrics are smart and heartfelt in the way of modern pop punk, and there are some really clever elements as well. “P.I.G.O.T.R.Y.” makes a kind of cool, backhanded reference to Animal Farm, and this is only the best of a very good bunch.

I’ve been rocking Late Bloomers in my car for days now and it always makes me smile. I don’t always like pop punk, but For I Am makes the noise that my brain wants to hear. Maybe there are a lot of bands like this, but there is always room in the world for a band that rocks this hard.

Review: Röntgen

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2019 by Magadh

Röntgen, Inhale Death (Blown Out Media)

Quite a cool 7″ released by one of the very few bands from New Mexico that I’ve ever heard. Straight ahead hardcore thrash with little in the way of frills. These guys have some d-beat elements, but they don’t sound like the 8 million Dissober clones out there. Let me just say that I like bands tuned down to C as much as the next guy (maybe more depending on who the next guy is), but I have to admit that it is kind of refreshing to hear this music being rocked in standard tuning. It shows a kind of faith in one’s ability to create rocking punk with artificially punching up the heaviness.

Inhale Death features seven cuts of mostly in a kind of middling tempo. They have some nice changes and lots of feedback, and they don’t commit the cardinal sin of bands in the kängpunk world of making their tunes longer than the underlying ideas will bear. The recording is crisp, especially the guitar sound which has quite pleasing buzzsaw quality to it. The guitarist uses heel damping rather more often than is common in d-beat releases but in that kind of scratchy punk rock way that makes the music sound more intense but not more metallic.

The vocals are not in that super low, unintelligible register that characterizes so many bands like this. The singer sounds like he just came home to find a beloved family pet dismembered on the front lawn.  I still can’t tell what the fuck he’s saying (or really even if it’s a he although the names on the lineup suggest that it is), but he sounds desperate and angry and not so much like a wounded Yeti, which is a plus.

D-beat should always leave you wanting more not less. When I hit the end of this disc after the first listening I immediately queued it up again…because I wanted to hear more. This is punk the way that is should be done: raw and angry. If I could give this band one piece of advice it would be: do not change a fucking thing.

Review: Henry Kane

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2019 by Magadh

Henry Kane, Den Förstörda Människans Rike, Transcending Obscurity (2017)

A guy I know sent me the link to this the other day and it’s pretty rocking. There are some interesting elements here. This is really nutballs thrash from Sweden. The accompanying blurb describes it as like a cross between Nihilist and Skitsystem, and I’m all for that as a concept, although this is really much more like a more blast beat-laden version of the former than the latter.

This is a solo project done by Jonny Pettersson, the singer from Wombbath. I like Wombbath, although when I listen to them, I often forget that they’re not Diabolical. Even if they were, that would still be pretty good, but anyway. Henry Kane is like a cranked-out version of this, and I must admit that it’s quite enjoyable, although the vocals have a pretty heavy reverb on them that doesn’t always work to their best advantage.

The subject matter of the songs doesn’t break any new ground in the world of death metal nihilism. Not that you necessarily want them to, and maybe that’s really part of the point. They contribute to the atmosphere and knit the whole thing together into a coherent package.
This disc came out a couple of years ago on Transcending Obscurity which is, as far as I am aware, the only extreme metal label based in Mumbai (or in all of India for that matter). They put out some pretty crazy shit and if you look at their catalog you will find that they are carrying the battle for transnational death metal, which is ok in my book.